- Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East
The June 1967 war lasted for only one hundred and thirty-two hours, yet it became a critical juncture in the contemporary Middle East. The military operations on the battlefields can be seen as a dramatic epilogue to the process begun, and the stances adopted, by the adversaries prior to the commencement of hostilities, while the outcome of the conflict may be described as a prologue to many critical processes that took place in its aftermath. Michael Oren, a Senior Fellow at the Shalem center in Jerusalem, set himself one prime aim: to compose a comprehensive and “balanced study of the military and political facets of the war, the interplay between its international, regional, and domestic dimensions” (p. xiv). As an historical study, Six Days of War is first and foremost a commendable example of the author’s success in integrating a wide range of sources published in English, Hebrew, Arabic, and Russian into one solid and convincing narrative, at least in the central part of the book. The end result is a research project that is based on an intensive reading of archival documents, memoirs, and testimonies, as well as academic and semi-academic relevant publications. In most cases, Oren’s use of sources mirrors his effort to present a balanced account.
Oren’s vivid descriptions are one of the distinguishing characteristics of Six Days of War. Events, and the statements and deeds of the war’s political and military protagonists, are all described in a unique style of writing that is found but rarely in academic publications. The book constitutes an impressive demonstration of the author’s writing abilities, as well as marking him as an industrious, diligent, and thorough historian. Excellent examples can be found in his discussion of Israel’s Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, or of the behavior of General Yitzhak Rabin, IDF’s Chief of Staff during the war (pp. 50–51). The zenith of Oren’s writing style can be found in the dense seven pages he dedicates to the opening of the war: the massive, forty-five minute long offensive on the part of the Israeli Air Force, which critically harmed Egypt (pp. 170–176).
Oren’s study is the most comprehensive account that has been published regarding two crucial stages of the June war. The first, pre-war, stage deals mainly with the interests that prompted decisions taken by both the belligerent parties (Israel, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan) and the two superpowers (U.S. and U.S.S.R.). The second stage, the combat itself, is treated with a detailed discussion of the events on the battlefield. A separate chapter is devoted to each day of fighting. The chapters “Context” and “Countdown” are the best in the book (pp. 1–169). Oren’s discussions of Israel and the stands of its political and top military echelon during the week that predated the outbreak of war (pp. 132–158) are an excellent piece of diplomatic and military history. Six Days of War offers a convincing and well documented discussion regarding Israel and the U.S. positions in the pre-war stage and during the battles. The examination of other parties central to the crisis and war is much less impressive. [End Page 179]
The discussion of the performance of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria is fuller than we have in other academic accounts, but here Six Days of War is mainly a summarization of details, assumptions, and arguments that have already been published. This, of course, does not belittle the contribution of introducing perspectives from the Arab world to readers who do not read Arabic. Those readers must appreciate Oren’s efforts in collecting the Arabic sources and integrating them convincingly into his narrative about the June 1967 war.
However, several crucial issues about the road to the June 1967 war fail to receive convincing discussion in Six Days of War. One example is the Soviets’ motivations for disseminating false...